FIFA opens revolving door for anti-corruption heavyweight, leaving main dilemma unresolved

The FIFA headquarter. Photo: Ed Coyle/Flickr

Analysis: An internationally leading expert in anti-corruption, Swiss professor Mark Pieth, is appointed to lead FIFA’s governance committee while Transparency International backs out.

After much talking, the first tangible step towards fulfilling the long-time reform promises by FIFA President Sepp Blatter was taken today, 30 November, as Blatter presented a true heavyweight in international anti-corruption work as the first chairman of FIFA’s new governance committee.

As often before in times of crisis, Blatter opted for a home-grown Swiss solution, but this time it is hard to complain about the international clout and professional competence of the chosen compatriot.

58-year old Mark Pieth is a professor of criminal law at the University of Basel and has had an impressive career in the field of compliance and governance, not only on a national basis. Most notably, he was appointed by the UN Secretary General to the Independent Inquiry Committee into the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme, he has chaired the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions, and he serves as an integrity advisor to the president of the World Bank.

Measured by any political or financial scale, Mark Pieth has dealt with corruption problems and power pressure that dwarf what FIFA can display, although he admitted that football had become “big business”. Pieths performance at the press conference was marked by a more outspoken and professional approach to the challenges and difficulties than in the past year’s FIFA press conferences put together.

Acknowledges inherent dilemma
Thanks to Mark Pieths frankness, it also emerged clearly that the key to fighting corruption in FIFA rests in the same pocket as ever – the pocket of the powerful Executive Committee in which around half of the members are marked by serious corruption allegations themselves.

Pieth acknowledged the inherent dilemma in leaving the decisions to a group of people with whom FIFA had difficulties, “to put it mildly”. The role of the governance committee would be to present proposals, some of which are already written down in a 40-page report delivered by Mark Pieth on September 19, but for unknown reasons not mentioned by FIFA President Sepp Blatter on the October 21 launch of the reform process.

For Mark Pieth the report is just the beginning of a process in which FIFA leaders have to be convinced to make reform:

“It is true that possibly the statutory bodies will not like anything we put on the table. That is logical in the process, but I am not too worried,” Pieth declared, stating that for him and the committee there would of course be a bottom line beyond that which “we can leave and say: We have had it”.

Separating past and future
Mark Pieth made a point of stressing that for professional reasons his condition for accepting the position was that he will deal only with the future of FIFA, not with the past:

“It is always a difficult question in such exercise. On this point you have to have two different approaches: One is forensic work, a kind of police work. The other is being a coach and lead the organization into the future. We will certainly fail if we try do both. You cannot tread on people’s toes and at the same time convince them to change,” Pieth said, adding:

“I am looking into the future; other people are looking into the past.”

On this point Mark Pieth showed wishful thinking. He could not tell which people he referred to with regard to the past and the FIFA officials in the room did not come to his rescue. The reason is, obviously, that this topic is taboo for FIFA.  

Any serious investigation into the involvement of FIFA officials in the ISL bribery affair or into irregularities in the World Cup host selection process is bound to undermine the authority of the ExCo and of President Blatter himself. 

On the other hand, FIFA’s credibility has little chance to be restored unless FIFA becomes able to deal as competently and truthfully with its past and present as professor Pieth seems ready to deal with FIFA’s future. So although there may be good professional reasons for separating the past and the future, there may be moral and political reasons for accepting that they are indelibly linked to each other.

The next change for FIFA to unite past and future is when the ExCo meets on 16-17 December. On this occasion the ExCo will deal with the ISL dossier, making crucial decisions on two points: Will the dossier be kept secret or made public? And will any wrongdoings in relation to the ISL lead to exclusions of ExCo members?

Payment and personal integrity
At the press conference, Mark Pieth admitted that he also ran a personal risk by involving himself with a tainted football environment. And from the first moment, the credibility of his own position and the set-up of the governance committee is questioned from an unexpected side.

Only a few weeks ago, at Blatter’s October press conference, the NGO Transparency International (TI) and its senior advisor on sport, German lawyer Sylvia Schenk, were praised by Blatter for their consultancy and offered a key role in the ongoing reform process.

Now, Transparency International has decided not to take part in the governance committee. According to Sylvia Schenk, Mark Pieth cannot be regarded as truly independent because of the payment he has received and will receive from FIFA for his work.

“No one paid by FIFA in recent times can be a member of the Independent Governance Committee,” says Schenk who is also not satisfied with the way Mark Pieth has been appointed.

“We would prefer if members of the Independent Governance Committee elected their own chairman,” she says, while stressing that Transparency International does not dispute the professional qualities of Mark Pieth and would also support his Basel Governance Institute to host the secretariat of FIFA’s governance committee.

Without mentioning details of his payment, Mark Pieth responded to similar questions about his integrity at the press conference, hinting indirectly at TI’s criticism.

“I don’t think it impairs our work at all. In business we have auditors and lawyers who get salaries and yet must work independently. There is a difference between what an NGO or stakeholder would do and what people who are in professional compliance work would do,” he said, mentioning that the major part of FIFA’s payment went to the Basel Institute on Governance in support of its various governance research projects.

For the sake of transparency, and to support credibility for the governance committee, Mark Pieth and FIFA should soon reveal exactly what FIFA is paying to Mark Pieth and the Basel Institute of Governance, respectively – as well as the amounts that the future members of the independent governance committee may receive.

If receiving money is no hindrance to carrying out good professional work, Mark Pieth and the new committee can then prove that they are worth every franc. (At the same time, Sepp Blatter could inform the public about the salary he receives for his work to govern FIFA. Or is that too much to ask?)

For the sake of understanding the reform process, could FIFA please explain why the report by Mark Pieth was kept away from the public while the work of Transparency International was highlighted at the October 21 press conference where Blatter launched the reform? Is there something in the Basel report that the public or FIFA’s ExCo was not ready to read in October?

And for football’s sake: Let the cleaning of FIFA’s house start at the next ExCo meeting, so the dirt of the past will not continue to pollute any wind of change.

Jens Sejer Andersen is International Director of Play the Game.

Mark Pieth’s homepage.

The 'Governing FIFA' report.

Video of the FIFA press conference with Mark Pieth.

  • Stephen ., 06.12.2011 12:56:
    This is one of the better news articles I read about FIFA's recent press conference. It addresses some key aspects such as the dilemma of the Executive Committee and FIFA's ignorance to investigate past corruption cases. The issue of Mark Pieth's payment should certainly be made transparent, however, this is a minor point. You can pretty much foresee that both Pieth and FIFA will play by the rules in terms of the payments in this case; both have a lot to lose. The previous comment also misses the point by focusing on the payroll argument which is rather weak and suggests a too simple black and white view. There is no reason to doubt someone's independence and professionalism just because he/she gets paid. The independent work can be still guaranteed no matter on what payroll someone is. Similar, TI's position is rather snappy than constructive. More important here is how (or if at all) FIFA will consider the new reform suggestions by Pieth and the Basel Institute. The key point is to monitor FIFA and the Executive Committee about the reforms and what consequences they will bear.
  • Steve Selthoffer, 01.12.2011 12:55:
    Director, Jens Sejer Andersen's commentary reveals the nature of the problems with sports governance in the international sport federations. Compromise, inclusion, payroll, benefits, and access. It is the "butler at the end of the bell" model. Pieth has compromised himself. It is NOT about the future. That framework is best handled by teams of other experts more qualified than Mr. Pieth in numerous areas. It's about corruption in the past, present, and who benefits from it going into the future. It would have been absurd for Mr. Pieth to have been on the oil-for-food scandal only focused "on the future" while ignoring the responsibility for bringing truth and justice to the present. The current structure of Mr. Pieth on FIFA's payroll as an "independent" is similar to the problem of the "independent testing" in FINA with the neck to ankle swim suits. We've seen this before. Sylvia Schenk has got it right. There is no compromise with integrity or independence. Integrity and independence are like being pregnant. You are either pregnant or you're not, you either have integrity and independence or you don't. There are no grey areas or middle ground.

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